5 Things You Don't Have To Do At Work

03/05/2013 11:16 am ET | Updated Mar 20, 2016

By Leigh Newman

Grown-up jobs mean grown-up choices. Columnist Leigh Newman tells us what to skip in our daily grind.

1. Don't Talk in Your Telephone Voice
Like most of us, my voice on the telephone is not my real voice. While rattling off, “Leigh Newman speaking,” I sound crisp, glossy and professional. This is a good thing. It lets callers know that they’ve arrived at a place of business, not at Big Eddie’s House of Hooligans. But every now and then, at big meetings, I’ve notice that my colleagues and I also use those same bright, smooth modulations—especially when we’re debating a point. Our impulse is natural, no doubt. We’re reminding each other that we’re at the office, not at Big Eddie’s House of Hooligans or even at the cafeteria downstairs. But it also adds a layer of Smiley Stewardess to the proceedings. Granted, nobody needs to bellow or rant to coworkers, but raising your pitch with delight, lowering it with disappointment or disagreement, talking to people as the person you are does the same thing at the office that it does anywhere else—earn you trust and respect.

2. Don’t Be the Gunslinger with Bad Aim
Your boss rushes in and wants to know what the hell exactly caused the dismal cat-food sales in Canada. You could look him dead in the eye, reach for the closest unconfirmed-but-feasible piece of data and whip out a response --bang! Only to find out later that Canadians don’t hate felines and haven’t banned them from private homes. Or you could just say, “I don't know the answer. But give me five minutes and I will find it for you.” You don’t have to be the fastest draw in the West. Only the most accurate.

3. Don’t Do the Doodads
I love a carefully tended African violet as much as anybody. But the gray industrial shelves of my cubicle are bare of plant life, mugs and all other human touches. There are no drawings from my kids or mementos from a trip to Florida. Often people ask me why this is, or they give me a sad little shake of the head. They mean well. They’re worried that I’m lonely, leaving for another company or a secret sociopath. But my blank cubicle is intentional. When I’m at work, I need to focus. Pictures of my family will make me wander into some daydream, wondering whether my son is really learning how to play the violin or just how to break the strings. Each of us understands the work-life balance in our own way. Feel no need to act homey anywhere but at home.

4. Don’t Go to Every Meeting (Please)
Whenever possible, assign one person to represent the group, take notes and report back later (via a brief-yet-thorough email). After everyone realizes the genius of this system, do feel free to brag.

5. Don’t: Finish That One Last Little Thing
In the last 15 minutes of the workday, it’s so tempting to squeeze in one last little thing, right before leaving. And yet you can—and should—resist. First, a last little thing is, by triple-super-scientific definition, not 15 minutes. It’s 20 minutes on Monday, 30 on Wednesday and 2 hours and 47 minutes the day before vacation.

You’ll either end up staying late or leave with it half finished. Further, you’ll have wasted that snippet of time at the end of day that could have been spent organizing a plan for tomorrow. And without that plan, you’re ensuring tomorrow will be one long snarled game of catch-up. There is no need for any of this. Get out of there! Hug somebody! Eat something with green stuff in it! Fall asleep, get up and don’t do any of these things at work all over again.

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